An Administrative History of Mount Rainier National Park
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Resource management in Mount Rainier National Park has changed fundamentally during the past thirty years. At every level of the organization management decisions have become rooted in data evaluation. Resource specialists now collect data in the field, systematize it, and develop manuals and plans so that resource managers can act upon the data in an informed and consistent manner. Resource management has grown more deliberate, thorough, and precise; as former superintendent Daniel J. Tobin, Jr., remarked, resource management is no longer based on simply "observing the resource" and responding on that basis. [1] This fundamental change occurred by a gradual accretion of many new technical staff positions and management plans, and transpired over the whole thirty year period since 1965. The change was dramatic only when viewed over a long time span.

Organizationally, resource management was divided between natural and cultural disciplines. Natural resource management required scientifically trained botanists and wildlife biologists; cultural resource management drew upon the disciplines of archeology, cultural anthropology, curation, history, and historical architecture. Data collection, systematization, and evaluation differed according to the resource and called for increasing specialization by discipline.


The major themes of natural resource protection in Mount Rainier National Park have remained consistent throughout the park's nearly 100-year history. These themes, of course, are the protection of the subalpine meadows, wildlife, and forest. But the manner of implementing those protections is very different today than it was thirty years ago. It is in the area of natural resource management that Mount Rainier National Park has seen the most change in the period since 1965.

Meadow Restoration

The park administration recognized a need for changes in subalpine meadow management as early as 1959, when it contracted with C. Frank Brockman for an ecological study of Paradise meadows. Brockman reported that the problem of meadow management was more administrative than biological—that is, the park administration had to find ways of reducing visitor impacts more than anything else. [2] Not surprisingly, then, Superintendent Rutter turned to the park's landscape architect, Ed Bullard, to prepare the park's first meadow management plan. Bullard accepted the aims of natural resource management set out in the famous Leopold Report: the main object of the plan was to restore the scene to the way it had looked when whites first visited the area. [3] There were three important elements to this plan.

First, the plan called for paving many of the heavily used trails in Paradise meadows. The paving of trails offended some visitors' sensibilities who thought that a bituminous trail surface destroyed the feeling of wilderness. But park officials insisted that paved trails were more defined than unpaved ones and would keep foot traffic more contained. Paved trails would also stand up to heavy use without becoming gullied. They were appropriate in certain intensively used areas such as Paradise meadows and Box Canyon. By paving the trails and posting signs that instructed hikers to stay on the path, park officials hoped to preserve the primitive off-trail scene. The alternative was to see the meadows become further and further dissected by unplanned "social trails." [4]

Second, the plan addressed the fact that natural ecological succession was resulting in encroachment of fir trees in Paradise meadows. Brockman had noted this in 1959. "One probable future problem relative to plant cover in the Paradise Valley should be noted," Brockman wrote. "There is evidence of the growing importance of abies lasiocarpa [sic] in the subalpine meadow plant community; this, evident by simple observation, is substantiated by the summer's study. It seems likely that the park administration may have a vista clearing problem on its hands in the near future." [5] In keeping with the spirit of the Leopold Report, and with Brockman's own recommendation, the meadow restoration plan provided for the systematic removal of tree saplings in order to preserve the meadow in the condition that whites had found it in the late nineteenth century. Perhaps half a million trees were removed in the early to mid-1970s in accordance with this plan. [6]

Third, the plan called for active restoration efforts including riprapping, resodding, and planting areas of bare ground. Superintendent Rutter assigned this task to the protection division and rangers undertook the work as funds allowed. In the late 1960s ranger John Dalle-Molle pioneered meadow restoration in the Yakima Park area, where numerous social trails led from the developed area up to Sourdough Ridge. Work crews obtained soil from roadside ditches in the area and transported it by wheelbarrow and a three-wheeled Cushman motor scooter to the project sites. The soil was placed on the unwanted trails, held in place with jute matting, and planted with subalpine plants taken from road shoulders in the area. SCA and YCC volunteers working under ranger supervision accomplished much of the work. [7]

Meadow restoration efforts were broadened to include backcountry sites after the Backcountry Management Plan came out in 1973. A YCC crew spent a week that summer restoring the meadow at Van Trump Park. The crew planted shrubs, built erosion control devices, and obliterated the social trail that led to the former Van Trump shelter. Meadow restoration in the front country continued, meanwhile, with seasonal laborers in the maintenance division laying dirt and matting on social trails and bare areas around Alta Vista in the Paradise meadows. [8]

Park officials found that meadow restoration worked: areas which had been denuded in the past could, with a little help, recover remarkably well. But they also realized that the fragile meadow areas were still getting pounded and that the NPS would never get on top of the problem unless visitors learned to stay on the trails. As Superintendent Neal Guse, Jr., saw the situation, protecting the meadows was a dual problem involving the natural resource and visitor behavior. He recommended a two-pronged effort involving natural resource studies on the one hand and social science research on the other. Meadow restoration could be made more effective if the park administration understood and even modified visitor behavior. In theory, the recreational carrying capacity of the meadows could be raised if non compliant visitor behavior could be minimized. [9]

In 1986, the superintendent formed an interdivisional committee to prepare a comprehensive plan for restoring the Paradise meadows. The committee included two rangers from the protection division, a ranger-naturalist, the park's landscape architect, the trail crew foreman, the park botanist, and a natural resource specialist. Over the next two field seasons, scientists on the committee documented 913 significantly degraded sites within a 1,000-acre area. Nearly 90 percent of these were social trails while the remaining sites consisted of large bare areas which had been used as viewpoints or rest areas. Meanwhile, Guse invited sociologist Darryll Johnson of the Cooperative Park Studies Unit, University of Washington, to head up a sociological study of "non-compliant use" in the Paradise meadows. Paradise rangers had discovered that the park's standard signs and barriers used in keeping people on the trails were ineffective. The purpose of the study was to identify who the non-compliant users were and test the effectiveness of different signs and barriers in obtaining visitor compliance. The study found that different signing could reduce the rate of non-compliance from 4.9 to 1.7 percent, or by two-thirds. By handing out questionnaires to off-trail hikers, researchers found that non-compliers were typically from the local four-county area, disproportionately non-white or foreign, less than twenty years old, not college-educated, and usually traveling in large groups. Another significant finding was that the presence of uniformed employees in the meadows reduced the level of noncompliance. This study influenced the protection section of the Paradise Meadow Plan. [10]

The committee completed the Paradise Meadow Plan in 1989. The plan's main features were recommendations for changes in the trail system, proposals for additional interpretive exhibits, changes in sign messages, and a restoration plan. Park botanist Regina Rochefort prescribed restoration measures in greater detail in her Restoration Handbook (1990). By then a large restoration effort had already been under way for three years, with some $600,000 spent treating 30 of the sites and initiating work on another 21. The project to that time included the placement of 1,965 silt bars, 991 cubic yards of soil, and 18,895 plants. The current method involves six steps: scarification, stabilization, filling, planting and seeding, site protection, and monitoring. [11]

Such an ambitious program would not have been possible without the assistance of U. S. Army helicopters, which transported the soil and other materials to the restoration sites in sling nets. The Army used the flight-time for training helicopter pilots in high-altitude maneuvers, so that the NPS received this invaluable logistical help at no cost. [12]

Another important component of the program was the greenhouse operation. The park grew plants for meadow restoration in a greenhouse located at Tahoma Woods. Built in 1974-75, the greenhouse was upgraded in the 1980s to include a lath house and shade house. By 1985 the greenhouse operation was producing 16,000 plants a year. This included 38 subalpine species and 13 species from lower-elevation forests in 1991. The park obtained a full-time horticulturalist in 1994 and had plans for a new greenhouse to be built in June 1995. [13]

The Paradise Meadow Plan sought to improve visitor compliance through a variety of measures. Rest areas along the trails were delineated by a rock border and surfaced with gravel to match the adjacent trail surface. Log benches and sitting rocks were flown to many of these locations by helicopter. Five new trailhead signs with maps and interpretive messages were installed, and a new museum exhibit was placed in the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center explaining the fragility of meadow vegetation and the cost and complexity of the restoration effort. The interpretive division assigned more roving interpreters to the area. [14] A new cut-off trail, Fourth Crossing Trail, was built to accommodate heavy foot traffic from the valley road to the ice caves area.

The natural resources protection staff used the lessons from the Paradise meadows project to develop a methodology for evaluating human impacts in other subalpine meadows in the park. In 1987, resource specialist Stephen T. Gibbons made a pilot study of social and way trails in Spray Park using this prescribed format. Gibbons identified 160 unmaintained trails, 15 bareground campsites, and 135 campsite impacts (such as fire rings, positioned logs, and litter) in a 1,108-acre area. These sites were listed in order of priority for restoration work when funds allowed. Some years later, as concern over social trails mounted, the park administration lowered the quota for overnight use of Spray Park. [15]

In 1994, SCA crews worked on meadow restoration in Spray Park and Yakima Park, tackling approximately thirty sites in order of priority. Park staffers anticipate that meadow restoration will continue in these areas, together with the Paradise meadows, as funding allows. [16]

Wildlife Management

The dominant wildlife management issue in Mount Rainier since 1965 has revolved around the elk. Studies of elk ecology in the 1970s and 1980s constituted the single most extensive wildlife study in Mount Rainier's history. Human-bear interactions continued to be a concern of a more routine nature. Recently, wildlife monitoring in the park has branched out to include amphibians, reptiles, fish, and two endangered species of birds, the northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet.

Elk Management. The elk herds which ranged into Mount Rainier National Park in the summer remained very small until some time after World War II. In 1962, U.S. Forest Service biologist John Larson conducted an aerial census along the Cascade Crest and counted a total of 466 elk, with more than 300 located in the vicinity of Shiner Peak. Larson alerted Superintendent Rutter to the growth of the elk herd, and Rutter formed a task force to study the elk situation and recommend management alternatives. This marked a new beginning in elk management in the park. [17] Whereas NPS biologists in the 1930s were concerned about the elk as an introduced species, NPS biologists in this latter era were more concerned about the elk's numbers. The concern was that timber harvesting was providing more winter range for ungulates (deer and elk) outside the park, driving up the ungulate population, thereby creating an unnatural burden on the subalpine vegetation within the park where the elk herds (more than the deer) grazed in summer.

The NPS, in response, formed an interagency Mount Rainier Deer and Elk Committee with officials from the U.S. Forest Service and Washington State Department of Game. The purpose of the committee was to ensure a free exchange of information on ungulate populations and to provide a forum for discussing management goals. Park officials soon recognized that they needed more scientific data and that the NPS must take the lead in doing research. The NPS contracted with Dr. Charles Driver and the Cooperative Park Studies Unit (CPSU), University of Washington, to begin a long-term study of elk ecology in the park.

While this research was in progress, the Mount Rainier Deer and Elk Management Committee continued to hold yearly or twice yearly meetings. The committee discussed research findings and management alternatives, particularly in regard to hunting outside the park. Sport hunting was potentially an important management tool. In 1976, the Washington State Department of Game agreed to form a small game management unit close to the park (Game Management Area No. 514, Tatoosh) and to institute late season hunts in an effort to reduce the herd. In addition, check points were established to provide biologists with data on tooth samples, reproductive tracts, and ages of harvested animals. The committee was viewed as a model of interagency cooperation. [18]

In 1978 the committee changed its name to the Mount Rainier Wildlife Committee and drafted a new memorandum of understanding. Park personnel continued to trap elk and conduct aerial censuses after funding for the CPSU project ran out in 1976, and the Washington State Department of Game and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest instituted a joint elk-tagging program. In 1979 the committee produced a draft elk management plan calling for a further reduction of the herd and submitted it for public review. The proposed elk reduction met with public opposition, particularly among the local population near the game management area, so the plan was shelved pending further research. [19]

Monitoring of the elk population and its effects continued with aerial censusing, fitting of some elk with radio collars, and analysis of vegetational changes in summer elk range. The north and south herds both showed upward trends, with the south herd showing a marked increase in 1983. Population estimates for the whole park were 1,502 in 1979, 1,199 in 1980, 1,446 in 1981, 1,646 in 1982, 1,826 in 1983, and 2,024 in 1984. [20] While these numbers caused concern, a taxonomic study of Mount Rainier's elk by Dr. Christine Schonewald-Cox demonstrated definitively that the elk were not significantly different from elk in the rest of the Cascade Mountains and need not be considered exotic. After years of interbreeding between Yellowstone-area and Roosevelt elk, it was no longer possible to distinguish introduced from native stock. [21] The report by Schonewald-Cox, together with a decline in the elk herd that began in 1985, prompted NPS officials to ask whether the elk population really constituted a management problem after all.

Consequently, when Regional Director Daniel J. Tobin, Jr., appointed Neal Guse, Jr. as superintendent, he specifically requested Guse to take a fresh look at the issue. Guse had worked on a similar issue in Rocky Mountain National Park, where state wildlife officials had been called upon to cooperate with park officials in controlling the elk population. Guse got three new research projects underway. One study reexamined the effects of elk foraging on plant communities in three subalpine meadows. Another assessed the proliferation of elk trails and wallows using aerial photography. [22] The third study investigated the influence of adjacent land use practices on elk population ecology. Collectively, these studies led park officials to downgrade the elk management issue and to substitute remote censusing of elk trail and wallow impacts for aerial censusing. [23]

Bear Management. Bear management constitutes an ongoing natural resource concern in Mount Rainier National Park. The basic outline of bear management has not changed much since 1965. It continues to aim at preserving a natural population of black bears in the park through a program of (1) public education about bears, (2) enforcement of regulations regarding proper food storage and feeding of wild animals, (3) vigilant garbage collection and removal, and (4) relocation of problem bears. Although the NPS has done little research on the bears in Mount Rainier, the park administration has benefitted from a huge amount of scientific study on bear ecology, behavior, and aversive conditioning in other U.S. national parks in the past thirty years. [24]

A ranger releases a bear at Klapatche Point
A ranger releases a bear at Klapatche Point. Problem bears were generally relocated to national forest land. (Louis G. Kirk photo courtesy of Mount Rainier National Park.)

Rough estimates of the number of black bears in Mount Rainier National Park place the population at around 100 bears. Bear incidents are relatively infrequent. Official records indicate a rise in the number of bear incidents in the 1970s, correlating perhaps with a growth in backcountry use. The superintendent's annual reports recorded 14 incidents in 1974, 10 in 1976, 7 in 1977, and 11 in 1978. One bear was involved in 18 incidents in the Cougar Rock campground in 1979 before it was trapped and removed to another area. Nearly all of these incidents involved minor property damage rather than injuries; to date there has never been a fatal bear attack in the park. In the late 1970s, improved bear-proofing of campground garbage cans, together with tighter controls on food storage in backcountry camps, significantly curtailed bear-human interactions. [25] The key component of bear management in Mount Rainier continues to be garbage collection.

NPS biologist R. Gerald Wright has pointed out that official statistics on black bear depredations in the backcountry may understate the extent of human-bear interactions. A 1981 study in Yosemite's backcountry, for example, found that only 1.3 percent of estimated damages were reported and only 2.8 percent of financial loss was reported. The study suggested that visitors were reluctant to report bear depredations because they feared receiving a citation for improper food storage. A 1980 study found that 92 percent of backcountry users claimed that they stored their food properly while only 3 percent actually did. [26] Rangers did not report all bear incidents either. As recently as the 1970s, Mount Rainier rangers sometimes relocated problem bears to adjacent national forest lands without officially notifying the Forest Service. [27] Nevertheless, park management currently insists that the black bear population is "substantially wild and fearful of humans," and that "few, if any, human-bear incidents occur within the back country." [28]

Small Mammals. Raccoons, like bears, are prone to beg or scrounge for human food and make themselves a nuisance. Feeding of raccoons could lead to unnatural concentrations of the animal such as sometimes occurred around Longmire. The park administration experimented with live-trapping and removing these individuals in the same way they removed problem bears, but the program was costly. The best alternative seemed to be to destroy some of the raccoons when their numbers grew unnaturally large. [29]

Beavers were a welcome presence in the park except in those occasional instances when their selection of a site for a beaver pond happened to threaten a part of the park's road system. The park administration had to keep a watchful eye for signs of beaver activity downstream from the park's road culverts. Once in a while beavers needed some persuasion to take their dam-building nature a little farther away from the road. [30]

A 1966 "Long Range Wildlife Management Plan" by park ranger David D. May observed that the reintroduction of the timber wolf in Mount Rainier National Park "is biologically desirable as a possible ungulate management tool and would increase the integrity of our 'natural' wildlife population." But, May added, the reintroduction "would create political and public relations problems of massive proportions." He did not recommend such action for the time being. [31]

Expanding Wildlife Studies. The park gradually increased the amount of wildlife research and monitoring in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1983, park personnel and VIP's conducted a survey of mountain goats. [32] In 1991, a two-person team began an inventory of reptiles and amphibians. Of the fifteen species of reptiles and amphibians previously on record as occurring in the park, all but three were located. No new species were found. The study continued over three years and long-term monitoring sites were established at selected lakes and ponds. [33] In 1993, the park made a limited survey of stream fish populations and identified the rare bull trout, a native fish, which was then being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act, in three of the park's major watersheds. [34]

Another major wildlife study in Mount Rainier is the endangered northern spotted owl monitoring program which began in 1983. The study focused initially on identification of spotted owl habitat and nesting pairs. By 1987, the objective of the study had evolved from the gathering of baseline data on spotted owls to the monitoring of a potential competitor, the barred owl, as well. Generally two biological technicians were assigned the job of walking transects and calling or attempting to bait owls. Spotted and barred owl sightings were entered into the park's Geographic Information Systems database. [35]

In 1994 the park began surveys of another endangered species, the marbled murrelet, after it was discovered that this sea bird ranged inland and was actually nesting in the park.

Forest and Fire Management

Even though Mount Rainier's forests have long been valued as a major natural resource in the national park, scientific research on the forest communities has generally lagged behind research on the park's subalpine meadow areas and fauna. In the mid-1970s, plant ecologist Jerry Franklin of the College of Forest Resources, University of Washington, prevailed on Superintendent Tobin to support a detailed study of forest community types in Mount Rainier National Park. Franklin and his team conducted field research from 1975 to 1980, and published their findings in The Forest Communities of Mount Rainier National Park (1988).

The preliminary report and vegetation maps that came from this work provided resource managers with sophisticated tools for managing the forest resource. For example, Franklin et al. rated all forest communities for their development potential according to two scales: resistance and resiliance. They defined these classifications as follows:

Resistance refers to the ability of a habitat to tolerate human impacts, such as trampling, without undergoing major changes in community composition and structure. Resistance generally reflects the "toughness" of the vegetative cover. Resilience refers to the ability of vegetation on a habitat to recover once it has been destroyed or severely disrupted. Resilience often reflects the inherent productivity of a habitat. [36]

The authors found that most forest communities at Mount Rainier had moderate to high levels of resistance to developmental impacts and moderate to low levels of resilience. Recovery was slow because the communities were typically comprised of slow-growing plants, especially where snowpacks persisted late in the spring.

The study also had important implications for fire management. Jerry Franklin and Miles Hemstrom reconstructed Mount Rainier's fire history based on historical records, vegetation map patterns, aerial photos, and fire scar analysis. They estimated the natural fire rotation to be 430 years, with some areas of the park showing old growth with an age of more than 700 years. The natural fire regime for the park was thought to be that of infrequent crown and severe surface fires that usually resulted in 100 percent mortality of the trees in the stands. In response to these findings and to the new directions in fire management generally, the park developed a new fire management plan.

Mount Rainier's fire management plan aimed to return fire to its natural ecologic role. It represented a clear break with the park's longstanding policy of suppressing all fires. Specific objectives of the plan included:

1. The use of natural prescribed fire as a preferred means for achieving the park objective of natural system management of natural resources.

2. A method for analyzing each fire and declaring it to be either prescribed or wildfire. Only the latter would be suppressed.

3. The restoration of fire to its natural role within the ecosystem of the park, making allowances for protection of people and property and other resource values.

Other objectives of the plan covered the suppression of human-caused fires, maintenance of trained personnel, cooperation with other agencies, and removal of fuel build-ups near historic and administrative facilities. The plan was approved in 1987, but was held in abeyance following the controversial fire season in Yellowstone National Park in 1988.

Many new forest management concerns have arisen in recent years which relate to broad environmental changes that do not stop at the park boundary. These include monitoring of acid rain; monitoring of global warming; and inventory of rare, threatened, and endangered plants and animals. After acid rain was documented in western Washington, resource specialists in Mount Rainier began in the mid-1980s to collect baseline data from various lakes and from fog samples at Paradise. Acidic fog has been associated with foliar leaching in some regions, and could affect the forest in Mount Rainier. Monitoring of the effects of global warming is being done by aerial photography, tree counts, and other means. Global warming has the long term potential to raise the treeline on Mount Rainier by several thousand feet, with drastic consequences for the distribution and character of subalpine parks and flower fields. Surveys of rare, threatened, and endangered plants were accomplished by park staff or contract as funds allowed. Park botanist Regina Rochefort produced a handbook for this purpose in 1986 which the regional office made available to other national park units in the Pacific Northwest. [37]


Mount Rainier National Park includes a rich assortment of historic buildings, bridges, and other structures associated with the development of the park prior to World War II. Built of native wood and stone, these structures are examples of an architectural style known as "Government Rustic" or "National Park Service Rustic." As noted in earlier chapters, the intent of the architects and landscape architects who designed these structures was to harmonize the park's manmade elements with the natural surroundings. As a group, these structures form a cultural landscape that reflected and shaped visitors' perceptions of the national park experience in the past and continues to do so today. [38] Park managers now consider the preservation of this architectural legacy to be an integral part of their management objectives. [39] This represents a dramatic change of thinking since the Mission 66 era, when park managers assumed that most of the old buildings in the park were nearing the end of their useful life and would soon be removed or replaced.

Recognizing a Rustic Architecture Legacy

Initially the idea that Mount Rainier National Park's physical plant could be of historical value met with resistance from some quarters in the Park Service. Since the Park Service's primary mission was to preserve the national park in its natural condition, some NPS officials reasoned, it did not make sense to preserve old Park Service buildings. This view was reinforced by Director George B. Hartzog's classification of the national park system's units into natural, cultural, and recreational areas. When park managers had to prioritize between various demands on a park's staff time and budget allowance, they were inclined to overlook potential cultural resources. Furthermore, as old buildings fell into disrepair or needed more and more maintenance work to keep them standing, the cost of upkeep had to be weighed against historic preservation values. Park managers generally guarded their prerogative to dispose of old buildings as they saw fit. Thus, the process of identifying, evaluating, and protecting historic structures in Mount Rainier National Park unfolded slowly in an atmosphere of ambivalence and even occasional outright hostility. [40]

An inventory of historical and archeological resources within the park was partially underway when the NPS prepared the new master plan for Mount Rainier National Park in 1972. That document stated that certain buildings provided evidence of past government stewardship of the national park and warranted study "to determine their significance." But as of that year the Longmire cabin was the only historic building being preserved and interpreted to visitors. The Longmire meadow was classified as the park's sole historic site. The environmental statement which accompanied the master plan in 1973 noted that fourteen other structures had been identified as potentially eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. [41]

In 1975, Regional Historical Architect Laurin Huffman contracted with the Denver Service Center for a survey of Mount Rainier's historic buildings for potential listing on the Park Service's List of Classified Structures (LCS). The LCS predated the National Register and was used by the NPS as a management tool for keeping track of all of the agency's historic structures. Robert L. Carper of the Denver Service Center (DSC) visited the park in August 1975 and recommended a total of 92 structures for inclusion on the LCS. After consultation with the superintendent, the regional office pared the list down to 21. [42] Meanwhile, Regional Historian Vernon Tancil had prepared a historic resources study plan for Mount Rainier and had contracted with the Denver Service Center for a historic resource study. DSC historian James Mote visited the park in 1976 and took the opposite point of view from Carper, that structures erected after the park's creation should not be nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. Only the Longmire cabin should be nominated. [43] When Tancil objected that Mote was taking too narrow a view of historic resources, Mote elucidated his position this way:

I resist what seems to me a trend within the Park Service to confuse Park Service physical growth with events of historical significance. The development of the Park Service as an institution has, of course, historic significance. However, the first ranger station in park X or the first resort hotel in park Y is not, ipso facto, historically significant. This seems to me to be unwarranted self-memorialization on the part of the Park Service. [44]

This crucial philosophical disagreement between Tancil and Mote soon involved the chief of the cultural resources division at WASO, the chief of the historic preservation division at DSC, and Regional Director Russell E. Dickenson. Since the two historians could not agree, Dickenson decided to allot $15,000 for a historic resources study to be undertaken by a third historian. DSC historian Erwin N. Thompson drew the assignment. [45]

Thompson's study was designed to combine and supersede the studies by Carper and Mote. His report inventoried the historic resources and provided a narrative history pertaining to those resources. Agreeing with Tancil on the crucial issue of whether the history of the park itself deserved attention, he devoted a substantial portion of his study to government and concessioner buildings and park administrative history. By the time he completed the study in 1979, the Longmire cabin had been entered on the National Register and the Paradise Inn and Annex were in the process of being nominated. Thompson recommended a total of 87 other structures for nomination to the National Register as well, including ranger stations, ranger residences, service buildings, patrol cabins, trail shelters, fire lookouts, bridges, and entrance arches. [46] Thompson's study provided another impetus for recognizing Mount Rainier National Park's extraordinary Rustic architecture legacy.

Still, the idea met with resistance. Superintendent Briggle found the number of buildings and historic districts proposed for the National Register to be "excessive." He suggested that for some types of buildings, such as patrol cabins and lookouts, one example of each could suffice. "The availability of funds to care for the buildings at the prescribed level for historic structures would be a major concern," Briggle cautioned. [47] Acting Regional Director Charles H. Odegaard concurred with Thompson's recommendations in principle, but advised the DSC to drop the historic district designations for Longmire, Paradise, and Sunrise and to eliminate numerous buildings. [48] The final report came out in October 1981 with the districts and all 90 buildings still included.

Paradise Historic District
Paradise Historic District

Sunrise Historic District
Sunrise Historic District

Nisqually Entrance Historic District
Nisqually Entrance Historic District

In 1982 the regional office fielded a team of historians and historical architects in Mount Rainier with a view toward updating the List of Classified Structures and preparing a preservation guide for building maintenance. (Whereas Carper and Thompson had looked at buildings that were 50 years old or more, the new study included buildings of 40 years age so as to include the many buildings erected during the 1930s and early 1940s.) The team recorded 153 historic structures for the LCS, of which 118 were recommended for nomination to the National Register. One member of the team, C. Barrett Kennedy, joined the park staff at the end of the summer and served as the park's first architectural historian for a little more than a year, completing the voluminous preservation guide. [49]

Meanwhile, as the regional office began to evaluate Mount Rainier's many historic buildings against the National Register's criteria, Regional Historian Stephanie Toothman and her colleagues reached the conclusion that the NPS had in Mount Rainier National Park "one of the most intact and extensive collections of rustic architecture in the National Park System." [50] Toothman provided a cogent historical explanation for this Rustic architecture legacy in Mount Rainier. "The presence and survival of this group of structures is due to several factors," Toothman wrote.

1. Mount Rainier's early pre-eminence within the National Park System as one of the "crown jewels" meant that a significant allotment from available National Park Service funding was devoted to Mount Rainier's development from the mid-1920s through the 1930s, a timeframe that parallels the key stages in the evolution of the rustic style;

2. The slowdown in park development in the late 1930s and its virtual cessation in the 1940s, with the waning of the public works programs and the onset of World War II, froze existing building stock in the park, eliminating the normal building and replacement cycle for almost a decade;

3. The growing competition for funding in the post-war era, as new park areas were established and developed, limited funds for Mount Rainier and coincided with the adoption of new stylistic approaches to park architecture; and

4. A new philosophy of park development, which advocated locating major park facilities outside of park boundaries, meant that major post-war development for Mount Rainier—the Tahoma Woods administrative and residential complex—occurred outside of the park's boundaries and, thus, did not directly impact the existing group of rustic structures. [51]

Toothman titled her paper "Mount Rainier: The National Park as a Cultural Landscape." She and her colleagues contended that the Rustic architecture in Mount Rainier helped to shape visitors' perceptions of "what a national park should look like." The buildings were not only aesthetic in their own right but helped to forge the visitors' national park experience. Moreover, NPS architects and landscape architects had applied the Rustic style "across the board to a range of buildings and functions." The level of detailing on each building varied with the visibility of the structure. Thus, it would not do to preserve representative examples. The whole "cultural landscape" must be preserved.

While no one single structure at Mount Rainier provides us with the ultimate, classical representative of the rustic style, the survival of this cohesive group with its range of applications provides us with a unique opportunity to study the full evolution of the National Park Service rustic style within a single area, the creation of a cultural landscape by a federal agency. [52]

Although Toothman completed the multiple property nomination form for Mount Rainier in 1984, Regional Director Tobin and Superintendent Briggle remained unconvinced that the National Park Service's Rustic style of architecture constituted an adequate justification for nominating the buildings to the National Register. Toothman was also frustrated in trying to nominate NPS structures at Crater Lake to the National Register, and her counterparts in other NPS regions were facing similar resistance in their efforts to preserve old Park Service structures. At the urging of Toothman and Chief Historian Ed Bearss, Tobin conferred with Director Russell E. Dickenson, who agreed to fund a servicewide study of National Park Service Rustic architecture. The resulting study by William C. Tweed and Laura E. Soulliere-Harrison, completed in November 1986, demonstrated conclusively that the Rustic style had originated in the Park Service after 1916, and was more accurately identified with that agency than the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1933-42 era. According to Toothman, that study "broke it open." Toothman then received authorization to submit the nomination form for Mount Rainier. Six months later, on May 28, 1987, the Longmire buildings, Paradise Inn, and the Yakima Park stockade group at Sunrise were designated as nationally significant National Historic Landmarks. On March 13, 1991, the Mount Rainier Multiple Property Submission, consisting of four historic districts and 36 individual buildings or structures, was formally entered on the National Register. [53]

Rehabilitation of Major Historic Structures

Concurrent with the process of recognizing Mount Rainier's Rustic architecture legacy, the Park Service pressed forward with rehabilitation of two major historic structures, the Paradise Inn and the National Park Inn. The Paradise Inn received a $2.8 million renovation during 1980-1981 and the National Park Inn closed for remodeling for thirteen months in 1989-1990. A third major historic structure, Sunrise Lodge, was the subject of several studies during the 1980s. All three of these initiatives involved coordination between cultural resource managers, maintenance staff, and architectural and building contractors.

Paradise Inn. The Park Service sought expert advice for the Paradise Inn as early as 1976, when it contracted with John Morse & Associates for an analysis of the sixty-year-old building's structural weaknesses and needed treatments. Following that report, historical architect David L. Snow of the Denver Service Center made a study of the inn, recommended alternatives for rehabilitation and historic restoration, and estimated the cost at roughly $1.5 million. [54]

The DSC submitted a proposal in February 1979 separating the design work recommended by John Morse & Associates into two contract packages, one coming under line item funding and the other to be covered by ONPS funding. On June 1, 1979, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation determined that the proposed rehabilitation of the inn would not adversely effect the inn's eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places. The inn was determined to be eligible later that same month. The NPS entered into two two-year contracts with building construction companies, with the work authorized to begin after February 11, 1980. [55] Meanwhile, the concessioner began an extensive renovation of the interior of the inn which would continue through most of the decade.

National Park Inn. Major rehabilitation of the National Park Inn at Longmire was recommended as early as 1980, and funding for the project was obtained through the Visitor Facility Fund five years later. The inn was rehabilitated in 1989-90. Although the inn was not formally nominated for the National Register until the fall of 1990, the Park Service proceeded on the basis that the inn had been determined eligible for listing on the National Register. In anticipation of the project, Regional Historian Stephanie Toothman and Park Historical Architect C. Barrett Kennedy collaborated on a historical study of the inn in 1985. Toothman and Kennedy found that the National Park Inn had undergone fairly extensive remodeling in the past; therefore, the Park Service could justifiably take some license in remodeling the building now. The most significant change was to place the entrance to the building in back, so that visitor parking and the main flow of traffic through the Longmire development area could be redesigned. Meanwhile, preservation of the inn's front porch and dormer windows preserved the original character of the building's front facade. The overall plan for visitor circulation in and around the National Park Inn drew upon another cultural resource management study, Lora J. Schiltgen's "Managing a Rustic Legacy: A Historic Landscape Study and Management Plan for Longmire Springs Historic District, Mount Rainier National Park." Unfortunately, new plantings around the outside of the building did not take hold and after a few years the empty rock-lined plantbeds did not have the look that had been intended for them. These plantbeds were to be replanted during the summer of 1995. [56]

Sunrise Lodge. By the early 1980s the Sunrise Lodge needed extensive code and structural rehabilitation to comply with health and safety standards. The cedar shingle siding had greatly deteriorated in the extreme environmental conditions of the Sunrise area, and the basement had underground water seepage. There was a proposal to convert the lodge into an overnight guest facility while maintaining its historical feeling, but when the cost estimates passed the $2 million mark Regional Director Tobin rejected the idea. [57]

Tobin requested a review of the concession operation at Sunrise by a team from the DSC in December 1985, and the following November he received the DSC's recommendation: replace the lodge with a new visitor services building. [58] A month after receipt of the DSC report, the Park Service notified the Washington State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation that the agency was undertaking a comprehensive design/environmental assessment for visitor services at Sunrise focusing on the lodge. [59]

The NPS considered several design alternatives. The superintendent favored a proposal to eliminate the old lodge and replace it with a new building next to the stockade. The regional office's cultural resources division opposed this, arguing that it would wreck the integrity of the original site plan. Another alternative, to place a new building to the right of the administration building, raised objections for the same reason. The cultural resources division favored replacement of the old lodge with one of compatible design virtually at the same site and this became the favored alternative. The SHPO and the Advisory Council both favored a fourth alternative: rehabilitation of the old lodge. [60]

The Park Service was placed in the awkward position of advocating the elimination of a National Register property contrary to the judgment of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. From the park administration's standpoint, the lodge had become a "maintenance hog" and an unacceptable drain on the park's financial resources. Toothman, for her part, justified eliminating the lodge on the grounds that the building had never been completed and was not architecturally significant. Although the Sunrise historic district had the distinction of being perhaps the earliest comprehensively planned development area in the national park system, the existing lodge building represented only the core structure of what was to have been a large destination hotel with wings on either side. A new building, properly designed, would not unduly affect the integrity of the historic district. It would have the enormous advantage of incorporating design features and materials which could better stand up to the severe climatic conditions at Yakima Park. [61]

Paradise Meadows: A Cultural Landscape Conundrum

As the boundary between natural and cultural resources has become increasingly indistinct and subject to debate in recent years, the 30-year-old dichotomy between natural and cultural resource management has come under strain. Nowhere is this more evident than in the area of defining "cultural landscapes." Whereas archeological and historical resources tend to be circumscribable within clearly defined "sites" or "districts," cultural landscapes are by definition spacious and amorphous. Moreover, they are conceptually subtle. Arguably, the NPS could determine that Mount Rainier National Park, as an area which has been managed for a distinct cultural purpose for nearly 100 years, is one large cultural landscape. Drawing boundaries around cultural landscapes and recommending practical guidelines for preserving them promises to be one of the greatest challenges for cultural resource management in the future.

Perhaps the current dilemma over management of Paradise meadows is a forecast of what lies ahead. Resource managers are currently debating what should be done about the encroachment of subalpine fir in the meadows. This dilemma is not new. In his ecological study of Paradise meadows in 1959, Brockman indicated that the park administration might consider removing successional tree growth in the meadows for "vista clearance" and in order to preserve the much-enjoyed flower fields. Brockman's recommendation was explicitly incorporated into the master plan of 1972:

The subalpine wild flower fields and meadows of the Hudsonian zone are being invaded by subalpine-fir. In and around Paradise, efforts must be made to restore and preserve the historic distribution of plants in order to provide interpretation and visitor experience within the present impact area. In other areas of this zone, this invasion will be allowed to proceed naturally, correcting adverse influences introduced directly and indirectly by man. [62]

Natural resource managers now advocate that Paradise meadows, like the rest of the subalpine zone, be managed for natural succession. Assuming that current climate changes continue, the natural resource managers' approach would allow the gradual forestation of the Paradise meadows over the next half century or more. This would profoundly change the character of the Paradise historic district and the visitors' experience. Cultural resource managers contend that Paradise meadows is a cultural landscape by virtue of the historical association between the developed area and the flower fields. Park administrators have been intensively managing the area for visitor enjoyment of the flower fields for at least thirty years, and have recognized the need to limit visitor impacts since the park's early years. The issue turns on whether early visitors to Paradise saw the meadows as wild or in some sense domesticated by the network of trails.

If the Paradise meadows are defined as a cultural landscape, natural and cultural resource specialists will have to work cooperatively to ensure its preservation. Currently the park botanist is skeptical. Would cropping the trees at the meadow's edge really be feasible? How would the new Paradise meadow management plan prescribe which trees to clear and which ones to leave alone? How would the trees be removed without damaging the meadows? What would cultural resource managers suggest if natural succession drove out the flowers anyway?

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Last Updated: 24-Jul-2000